Generally, Bill Belichick's traditional Monday day-after-game conference call with the New England media is primarily about the things that his players did well and not so well in the prior day's game.
And following New England's 30-17 win Sunday afternoon in San Francisco that common theme was once again present when Belichick spoke with reporters after the long flight home and having broken down the film. The Patriots improved to 8-2 on the season by fighting through the rain and some mid-game struggles to pull away for the win.
As such, Belichick was asked about the key contributions from guys on both sides of the ball such as Tom Brady, Danny Amendola and Patrick Chung.
A day after Stephen Gostkowski continued his season-long struggles by adding to the record-number of 12 league-wide missed PATs, New England's boss was asked about the results of the longer attempts that he actually proposed the rule change for a few years back. "That story is a couple years old," Belichick said of his part or goals in the rule change, though he realizes his team must be better in the "critical one-point plays."
Maybe the most interesting if borderline uncomfortable question-and-answer portion of the conference call came when Belichick was asked multiple questions regarding the fact that Jabaal Sheard was a healthy scratch and did not even make the trip to San Francisco with the Patriots, the veteran having dropped down the depth chart significantly in the span of a couple weeks.
"Well, Jabaal was inactive. So…that's why he wasn't in San Francisco," Belichick responded to the first question of the conference call, though follow-ups would bring the topic more to the forefront a few minutes later.
So, with the Patriots players enjoying a day off for victory Monday after a win across the country, here are some of the highlights of Belichick's noon-time chat with the local media.
1. "I don't understand why that's hard to understand": After initially attempting to deflect the opening query as to how Sheard had gone from starting the first eight games of the season to playing just 16 snaps last week against Seattle and then not traveling with the team this week, Belichick was pulled back into the topic. The coach was asked directly if Sheard's demotion from starter to day-of-game inactive was "performance based."
"As I think I've said on dozens of occasions, every decision we make here is based on what's best for the football team," Belichick said.
A follow-up question wondered if Sheard has a "clean slate and an opportunity to get back into the mix this week" against the Jets. Belichick did anything but declare that would be the case.
"As I already said, we're going to make the decisions that we feel like are best for the football team -- last week, this week, next week, every week. I don't know how I could put it any differently. Last year. The year before that. Five years before that. Ten years before that. Fifteen years before that. I don't really understand…where the, ah…I don't understand why that's hard to understand."
2. Chung "one of the best tacklers in the league": While Sheard was removed from the pass rush, the strong safety Chung was very much added to that area in San Francisco. The veteran had a key sack coming off the defensive right side on the 49ers first third-down attempt to force the punt. It was the start of an impressive day for Chung, who notched a game-high eight tackles.
"Patrick played well, played productively, pretty much as he always does," Belichick raved. "He gives us that week after week. He makes plays in the kicking game. He makes plays in the running game. He makes plays in the passing game. He's a good tackler. He's around the ball. He's just a productive player. Seems like it's pretty much like that every week."
In regards to the 12-yard, punt-forcing sack of Colin Kaepernick, Belichick praised his safety's ability to bring down a pretty athletic, elusive quarterback.
"I'd say the harder part of the play was tackling the quarterback," Belichick said, downplaying any disguising or timing that went into it. "We've had a number of situations this year where we've been in that situation where we've had players coming unblocked off the edge and we just weren't able to get the quarterback. He escaped somehow. Kaepernick almost got out of there on that one too. Patrick kind of wrapped him up around the leg or ankle and then somebody else was there to kind of help finish the play.
"But when you are coming in space like that you can't really let the quarterback outside and he's as athletic as Kaepernick or Tyrod Taylor or guys like that it's a tough open-field tackle on a player like that. It was another good tackle. And Chung's one of our best tacklers. He's got to be one of the best tacklers in the league, whether he's in line or in space or wherever he's tackling. He's very good. I thought that was a very good tackle on the play and not an easy one."
3. Brady-to-Amendola TD "not the way we drew it up": Sometimes the Patriots draw up perfect plays on offense that get the perfect defense and are executed perfectly in the way that was designed. Other times, including seemingly a number of different key plays in San Francisco, plays come with guys reacting to the situation and making things happen on the fly. Belichick made it clear that was very much the case on Brady's 5-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to Amendola. Both players had to adjust to a unique look in the red zone and did so well, very much in concert with each other.
"Tom kind of got away from some pressure. Danny saw some space and found it. And Tom found him. It was really a good play by both players," Belichick declared. "And the offensive line that gave a little bit of extra protection there. Tom did a good job of coming out of some pressure, getting his eyes up and Danny saw some people inside of him where he was kind of designed to go on the play but had the awareness and the savvy that Danny has to find the open space and then Tom found him. It was really a great play by both players. Definitely not the way we drew it up."